America is sort of a laboratory of human existence.
Question: Who is America?
Dana Gioia: Well America is . . . has a wonderfully rich, artistic legacy. It’s predominantly European, even though it’s unfashionable to say that. But it’s a mix of European cultures that doesn’t happen in Europe. And then by the time they got to the West Coast they were suddenly being hit with Native American, with Asian, with Latin American and Oceanic traditions too. And so the American arts are, in a funny way, a meeting place of world culture to which a kind of a European DNA . . . everything else has been grafted. Perfect example of this is jazz, which takes this four square, European kind of music and then begins to syncopate it to African poly-rhythms. And you know this . . . You know if you look at the way the African arts – largely as they came through the Caribbean and American slave culture – completely transformed what the American European arts are. You know I think what we are here is a meeting place – a kind of laboratory – of human existence.I mean there’s a really interesting thing, and I’ve never heard anybody say this. If you look at the last hundred years of the arts, there has never been a place in all of human history that has had as much happen as the United States has during the last hundred years. And it’s ranged from classical music, to jazz, to rock ‘n’ roll, to hip hop . . . from abstract expressionist painting, to film, to comic books . . . you know to newspaper, you know . . . cartooning, novels, poetry, drama, TV, etc. etc. And I haven’t even begun to exhaust the arts . . . the music alone. And I do believe that in some funny way, this unbelievable diversity of expression has come out of the fact that we were the first big society in history which let the individual be free to pursue what the individual wanted. And that’s why it’s good not to have a cultural policy. People should create their own art in ways that they want to do it. And so I’m a huge fan of American art, even though I’ve often criticized certain aspects of American culture. There’s something happening in American culture that’s never happened before in all of human history, and it’s exciting.
Recorded On: 7/6/07